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Machine stamped Rumsfeld signature on condolence letters: report

AFP | December 19 2004

A new wave of criticism was set to hit US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Sunday after he admitted that he had not personally signed Pentagon condolence letters to families of soldiers killed in Iraq.
But he has vowed to do so in the future, according to a Washington Post report.

"I wrote and approved the now more than 1,000 letters sent to family members and next of kin of each of the servicemen and women killed in military action," Rumsfeld said in a statement to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.

"While I have not individually signed each one, in the interest of ensuring expeditious contact with grieving family members, I have directed that in the future I sign each letter," the defense chief said, according to the Post.

An outcry ensued after the Stars and Stripes reported in late November that the Pentagon was using a signature device to stamp Rumsfeld's signature on the letters, and quoted recipients who said they were insulted.

Several top Republicans, including senator and former presidential candidate John McCain, have recently criticized Rumsfeld, whom Bush has asked to stay on amid a cabinet re-shuffle in the wake of the November elections.

Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott said he hoped Rumsfeld would step down sometime next year, accusing him of not listening enough to his officers.

The defense chief has drawn fire since seeming to dismiss the concerns of a US soldier at a "town hall" meeting in Kuwait who asked him about the lack of armor for US military vehicles in Iraq.

In widely broadcast and published remarks, Rumsfeld responded: "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

Republican Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote to Rumsfeld December 15 that his answer to troops in Kuwait was "troubling."

Noting that she raised the matter with a top Pentagon official in March, she said: "I remain concerned that, more than eight months later, the Department of Defense still has been unable to ensure that our troops have the equipment they need to perform their mission as safely as possible."

The White House has repeatedly stepped in to defend the 72-year-old Rumsfeld, saying he is doing "a great job."

Saturday, the Washington Post published its latest spread of photographs of US soldiers killed in Iraq -- taking up three full pages for the period of November 4 to December 7.

A total of 153 soldiers were pictured, of the almost 1,300 who have died in the war thus far. The Post has already published such photo spreads 11 times -- six times in 2003 and five this year.

The images are obtained from local newspapers and family members, the Post said, noting that the Pentagon does not provide photographs of US casualties.

Each photo is accompanied by name, hometown, unit, and circumstances of death -- a large part of them from November's US offensive in Fallujah this time around.